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Sigmund Freud - "The Uncanny"

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Charlotte Kieran

on 1 December 2013

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Transcript of Sigmund Freud - "The Uncanny"

Sigmund Freud - "The Uncanny" 1919
"The Uncanny" 1919
The "Uncanny" is a Freudian concept of an instant where something that is familiar to us becomes foreign and frightening.
It is a class of terrifying that leads back to something once known to us.
Uncanny comes from the German word "Unheimlich."
"Heimlich" it's opposite, means familiar and native so therefore we can conclude that unheimlich is frightening because it is not known and not familiar.
Story of 'The Sandman'
By E.T.A Hoffman
Nathaniel, the protagonist is warned about the Sandman when he's young. He associates his father's colleague Coppelius with the Sandman. Coppelius wants to burn his eyes out but his father saves him. Nathaniels father is later killed by an explosion during one of Coppelius' visits.
As a student, Nathaniel meets the optician Coppola from whom he buys a spy glass. Nathaniel falls in love with the automaton Olympia whom he sees through this glass. Olympia has been produced by Spalanzi (double of the father) and Coppola (the double of Coppelius). Nathaniel observes how the two fight over the automaton and the eyes are pulled out of the robot's head.
Nathaniel falls into insanity.
He recovers, and is about to marry his fiancée Clara. They ascend the tower of the town hall and Nathaniel sees Coppelius through his spy glass. He goes insane and tries to kill Clara. Her brother rescues her, but Nathaniel jumps off the tower to his death.
The Double
"The 'Double' was originally an insurance against destruction to the ego" Otto Rank.
The quality of uncanniness can only come from the circumstance of the 'double,' a creation dating back to the early mental stage, long left behind.

Freud says it is an involuntary return to the same situation, but which differs radically from it in other respects that create the uncanny.

He uses an example: "We attach no importance to the event when we give up a coat and get a cloakroom ticket with the number, say 62; or when we find that our cabin on board a ship is numbered 62. But the impression is altered if two such events, each in itself indifferent happen close together."
The impression of uncanniness would be stronger if less time passes between the shock and the actual memory.

Freud's Life
Freud was born in 1856 to Jewish parents.
He was the oldest of 8 children.
Freud entered the University of Vienna at the age of 17 to study Law but graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1881
He was one of the most controversial and influential thinkers of the 20th Century.
He played a major role in the development of psychology and was the founding father of psychoanalysis.
His book the "Interpretation of Dreams" 1899, established the basic groundwork for the theories and ideas that formed psychoanalysis.
Why Freud was Influential?
Freud was the founding father of psychoanalysis.
He invented the 'talking therapy' we still use today.
He influenced other psychologists such as Carl Jung who studied under him.

Cinema and psychoanalysis were born around the same time.
The Guardian says: "The birth of cinema offered a collective sense of what Freud called the uncanny: the images on screen were both familiar and somehow strange, alive and yet lifeless, real but illusory."
It is the factor of involuntary repetition which surrounds an uncanny atmosphere, something that would otherwise be innocent enough. It forces the idea of something fateful and inescapable.

Today we refer to this feeling of uncanniness triggered by a double, as 'Déja vu,' which literally means 'already seen.'

Freud married Martha Bernays in 1886 and together they had 6 children.
Freud's own daughter Anna began a career in psychology, influenced by her father's theories. She made important contributions of her own and founded child psychoanalysis.
He died in September 1939.
Jentsch sees the undecidablilty of the inanimate/animate opposition as one source of the uncanny. In Hoffman's story this refers to the robotic woman Olympia.
Freud disagrees and sees the source of uncanny as the eerie character of the Sandman. The mythic figure who steals children's eyes.
Freud says that the uncanny is linked to the idea of being robbed of one's eyes.
He says that in dreams and myths the loss of eyes = fear of castration.
The spy glass in the story acts as a symbol for the revelation of a hidden secret.
The uncanny thus refers to something familiar that has been repressed and comes back to light.


Sandman Videos
A German Expressionist style silent film of the Sandman. It focuses on the idea of Olympia and the automaton. This video supports Jentsch's view on Olympia being the un-canniness in the story.

Useful Links
The Uncanny: http://web.mit.edu/allanmc/www/freud1.pdf
Lecturers notes: http://courses.washington.edu/freudlit/Uncanny.Notes.html
Article from the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/film/2001/jun/17/features.review
Freud's life and theories: http://psychology.about.com/od/sigmundfreud/p/sigmund_freud.htm
Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud
Google Books: http://books.google.ie/books?id=keYQ900Mq1oC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

A stop motion animated film of the Sandman. It focuses on the figure of the Sandman and the fear of being robbed of your eyes. This video conveys Freud's theory of the Sandman as the center of un-canniness.
The Quaker's story in "Seven Psychopaths" explains the uncanniness felt by the presence of the double very effectively. The repetition of his presence outside the window creates a sense of fateful unease and claustrophobia.
Full transcript